I’ve never liked the idea of taxpayers picking up the tab for a partisan beauty contest that won’t actually nominate anyone and whose timing and cost the state has no control over. Unlike state and local primaries, the purpose of South Carolina’s presidential primaries is to give direction to delegates to the parties’ national conventions – direction that those delegates are free to ignore.
The idea is even less appealing since the state Republican Party put its delegates in jeopardy by defying Republican National Committee rules and moving the primary to Jan. 21. Although that was done to keep our state’s first-in-the-South status after Florida defied those same rules, it still underscores the wide gulf between the primaries that actually decide which candidates’ names go on the fall ballots and these presidential “preference” primaries.
And yet, S.C. voters understandably believe that this beauty contest is a real election. And it is the closest they get to having any say in whose name will be on the ballot a year from now.
That’s why our editorial board urged the Legislature four years ago to put the State Election Commission in charge of running presidential preference primaries: In a free society, few things are more important than public ownership and confidence in our election system and our government. When independents and Democrats feel uncomfortable participating in an election because it’s run by Republicans – or when independents and Republicans feel uncomfortable participating in an election because it’s run by Democrats – that undermines the sense of ownership we must have in our representative democracy.